My jaw dropped when I saw Rabbi Yoseif Bloch’s article Lonely Manna of Faith. I couldn’t believe that he understands the efforts of Orthodox rabbis on both sides to reign in radical elements that are seeking to undermine the Tradition as simple intolerance and political posturing. I’m sure he does agree that there is such a concept of right belief in Judaism, it is possible to step beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in Judaism, and doing so is treated quite seriously in Jewish law. The argument we have been making is that innovations introduced in practice by Rabbi Weiss & Co. as well as statements of belief written by several of his students represent such radical departures from normative Judaism that it impacts their credibility to speak about matters of personal status. All the Chief Rabbinate did was acknowledging that what they have been saying and doing is problematic, a fact I didn’t see as particularly controversial.
The fact of the matter is that personal status is a much more difficult issue now than it has ever been. Intermarriage is at an all-time high and possibly exists that for the first time since King Solomon reigned in Jerusalem it might be considered that the Jews are in their heyday, with all of the ramifications thereof. There was rarely a comparable situation throughout a history where people are actually clamoring to be Jewish and where it would be considered to be a positive thing. This is one of the foundations for the communal ruling in the Syrian community, which effectively ended conversion there. This is without the incentives for people seeking to make aliyah with all of the financial benefits that come with it. The Chief Rabbinate would be derelict in their duties if they were not taking certain precautions, and a basic precaution is that the person attesting to someone’s Judaism, with all of the spiritual and potential financial benefits that come with it, meets some basic requirements. I don’t see how Rabbi Bloch could criticize the Chief Rabbinate for doing their due diligence.
Now I’d like to address the word game and unfair criticism of Rabbi Rocklin. It’s true that Rabbi Farber has said that he believes in the divine nature of the Torah, but what he means by that is more consistent with Conservative/Historical Judaism than Orthodox Judaism. He says flat out that the Torah is a folk tale and that Avraham Avinu never existed, essentially stating that he is uttering an absolute lie every time he prays the mandatory thrice-daily prayer service. When Rabbi Asher Lopatin states that “Rabbi Farber is a big enough talmid chacham to defend his Orthodoxy from all his critics“, he’s saying that a philosophical position that is intolerable within Orthodoxy is tolerable within Open Orthodoxy, he has effectively placed Open Orthodoxy at the right wing of the Conservative movement. Is it any wonder then that Rabbi Weiss was calling for the acknowledgement of non-Orthodox conversions?
As we come to Parshat Yitro, we have to ask ourselves a question: why did our Sages say that the Jews were in their heyday during the Sin of the Golden Calf when compared to their sorry state at the end of the 1st Temple as opposed to the Giving of the Torah featured in this parshah? The answer to this question is the answer to Rabbi Bloch’s criticism of why we have been so focused on what Rabbi Weiss is doing as opposed directing our energy toward social issues like that of child predators. There’s a very simple distinction between the YCT controversy and pedophilia: most people know that kid touching is wrong. Even most pedophiles know it themselves regardless of their actual behavior. There’s nothing to be said about this particular issue other that we need to keep them away from our children and get them help so they can’t do more damage.
Rabbi Weiss has the power to do something much more damaging, and that is to make the forbidden permissible. Take homosexuality for example since it is the subject of so much debate. The Ben Ish Hai admonished his congregation over 100 years ago in Baghdad for engaging in homosexual behavior, but not specifically because it was so much more terrible than any other violation of Jewish law. He said the reason this transgression was so serious because even the non-Jews knew that it was wrong and the Jews looked very bad for engaging in behavior that was such a deviation from societal norms. No one in the 1800′s could have imagined gay marriage being institutionalized and sanctioned by society. Who’s to say in 100 years society won’t putting their stamp of approval on pederasty as well? It wouldn’t be without precedent in history. Now imagine either our modern congregant struggling with same-sex attraction or our fictional pedophile of the future who wants to stop but is finding it so hard. The media tells him it’s fine, the schools says it’s natural, and he comes looking to the rabbi. What hope of resisting his urges or repenting when the rabbi rubber-stamps society’s mores?
Rabbi Weiss’ students are unapologetically deriving their values from non-Jewish sources and superimposing them onto Jewish ones. Besides for the aforementioned dabbling in Academic Biblical Criticism, there’s more examples of Open Orthodox rabbis trying to remake Judaism in their own image. One YCT student has tried to push veganism based on Aristotelian ethics rather than Jewish. Another claims feminism must inform how we decide how to approach women’s issues despite the fact that the Rav he claims acknowledges its importance also called feminism heresy. A third argues that the spirit of inclusiveness is an overriding consideration to the halachot of a house of worship. Who knows what wild innovations they could come up with or what behaviors they could end up sanctioning? This is why this topic deserves so much of our attention.